William Golding's daughter reveals his 'darker side' in new book

Judy Carver's The Children of Lovers seeks to document warmth and fun of her father, but also the painful side to her upbringing

The children of lovers are orphans, so the saying goes. Drawing from that for her title her forthcoming memoir, William Golding's daughter, Judy Carver, is set to show that life for the children of famous authors can be just as difficult.

Describing the book as "a dialogue between his life and mine", writing a memoir is something which Carver, 65, has been pondering, collecting notes and setting down memories, ever since her father died in 1993. The book will be published by Faber & Faber in May. Next year marks the centenary of her Nobel prize-winning father's birth, with a conference, centenary editions of his novels and the opening of the archive of correspondence between Golding and his long-time editor at Faber Charles Monteith – who plucked Lord of the Flies from the slush pile.

"The title, The Children of Lovers, is part of a proverb; the children of lovers are orphans, and that's really I suppose meant to be a clue that our parents were very wrapped up in each other and themselves, and that comes out in the book," she to the Guardian. "Am I being fair? I don't know. Are children ever fair about their parents? God knows I hope mine never write a memoir of me."

The creator of one of the most acutely observed portraits of childhood in his novel Lord of the Flies, Golding was "in many ways very kind and very understanding and very sweet" as a father, said Carver. "In many ways he was a very warm person, and tremendously funny. What's strange is that no one believes that – they think he was all doom and gloom."

But there was also a "painful side" to her and her brother David Golding's upbringing, she said, which she will detail in the memoir. "Both my brother and I had problems growing up. My brother now, very sadly, though he's completely open about it, has a mental illness. While I can't say it was my parents, it is a tricky business. I'm sure they wondered all their lives had they been instrumental, or made it worse or better or no difference.

"When I was growing up I did have a breakdown. I am robust in the extreme now, but this is why it's called The Children of Lovers. There was not that much room, really, for the two of us. I didn't feel we had enough from them."

But in a family emergency her parents would have "dropped everything – my father would say, 'It's only a bloody book,' He always meant us to feel that human beings were far more important than anything else – that didn't always come across in the way we were brought up. I do feel there is a major difficulty there in the way we were brought up ... My father was tremendously affected by the war. We were aware the war had done something to him, and that affected our childhood too," she said.

Golding had a darker side, a "feeling of self-contempt which came from very far back. Sometimes it was dealt with funnily, with self-deprecating jokes, but sometimes it was a much darker business which he couldn't live with.

"I know he referred to himself as a monster. Very occasionally I remember him behaving quite badly, being unkind, but that was very unusual and was usually when he had a lot to drink," Carver said. "He was in spurts a heavy drinker. Often he was happy not drinking at all. It was one thing or the other."

Recalling a walk with her father as a child, when she was chattering away to him, Carver says he told her not to talk because he was trying to think. "It turned out he was thinking about Pincher Martin, a brilliant novel which is very complicated. I can see the point now, but at the time I was hurt. His capacity for concentration was absolutely extraordinary."

When she originally set out to write the book she found it was straying too close to a biography of her father, something she felt she was too close to him to write. In the end the family asked John Carey to write the biography, and it was published last year to general acclaim. Despite the headlines which surrounded its publication, focusing on Golding's admission in an unpublished memoir that he "tried unhandily to rape" a girl of 15 while a student, Carver said she "couldn't ask for anything better at all".

Her father's generation was, she said, "not nearly as unfettered as they liked to think. He did feel very, very guilty, not only about this girl who he's supposed to have had sex with, or nearly sex with, or rather uncivilised sex with, but also about the girl he was engaged to [before he married Carver's mother]. He didn't feel very good about sex until he met my mother and fell in love. Before that, and even after in retrospect, it was a difficult subject."

Julian Loose, Faber editor handling The Children of Lovers, described it as a "powerful and sometimes painful family memoir which is so arresting and beautifully written that it would find many readers even if the family in question weren't the Goldings". He added that it may not be the final piece of publishing from the Golding clan.

William Golding left behind a "huge amount" of unpublished material, from a journal to novels; "the place is stuffed with paper", said Carver. "At the moment there aren't any special plans [to publish]. I would love to see some of the journal come out. There are a couple of complete early novels which he described to me – he didn't think they were up to much, he said one was so bad it didn't even have any sex or violence'. There were later unpublished things, one bit of which is hysterical, an account of a sort of Heracles figure who's actually a monster. We'll have to see."

Contributor

Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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